There are moments in our lives or careers when we grow stagnant and need a jolt to invigorate, revive, and impassion us. I experienced such a jolt this past week. I had the great fortune to once again travel to the Adaptive Sports Center (ASC) in Crested Butte, Colorado. There were nine of us all together; six high school students (four with cerebral palsy, one with Down syndrome, and one with an above knee amputation) and three therapists. This is the third trip taken by a group from Hospital for Special Surgery, but the first one in the summer. The trip was nothing short of spectacular. Here is what I learned from this dynamic group:
- The Power of Teamwork: We left New York last week as 9 individuals, but returned as one team. Our last two trips to ASC were ski trips. There I saw the strength of perseverance and determination to reach lofty individual goals. This trip was different. We spent our days rafting over rapids, canoeing, hiking, and participating in a ropes challenge course. These activities required our group to come together and work as a team. Whether it was paddling a canoe to reach a desired destination or problem solving how to negotiate a moving platform, our team immediately worked as a well-oiled machine with a balance of power. They took turns being leaders, each team member contributing valuable ideas and skills at different times, seamlessly flowing in what seemed to be a well-choreographed ballet of leadership skills. I have often been in meetings where the participants could have taken a lesson in patience, humility and teamwork from these teenagers. All participated, added value, and worked together to achieve a successful outcome. Even Joseph, one of our participants who has difficulty with expressive language, offered the following advice during our moving platform exercise, “Just keep calm.” Brilliant. I need to remember that.
- With the right support, we can accomplish anything: Throughout the week, our group was challenged by new and sometimes frightening experiences. We spent a lot of time on or near the water, soaring through the trees in the ropes course, out in nature with bugs, and just travelling across the country away from our families and comfort zones. Never once did a group member lack support. In a time when bullying is featured prominently in the media, it was refreshing to travel with a group of high school students that offered only positive feelings to their peers. They continuously rallied together to help friends overcome their fears, homesickness, and shyness, and embrace new experiences. One evening, the kids put on an impromptu concert for the therapists. Each group member stood in front of all of us and sang a song. They were amazing! The kids all clapped and cheered each other on and each singer’s voice got stronger and more passionate as the song continued. That kind of support is what we all need from our colleagues. We need to celebrate our talents and accomplishments so that we are unafraid to stand up and sing or speak about what we are most passionate.
- Appreciate the small things. Without them, we would never have the big ones: Crested Butte is the wildflower capitol of Colorado and the mountainsides were in full bloom. We spent a day hiking. Each participant had their own camera to photograph the landscape. I must have taken over 700 pictures. My photos were all of the mountains and the lake and the kids. The kids’ photos were of animal tracks, individual flowers, and moss on a log. They were beautiful. I realized without these things, there would be no expansive landscapes. The little things are just as important and just as spectacular as the big ones, and pivotal to their existence. We need to take the time to appreciate them.
It was a very successful week. We accomplished our group and individual goals, pushed ourselves physically and emotionally, and got to spend the week in a place of pure and overwhelming beauty, surrounded by people who are now dear friends. Leading into it, I knew this trip would be great, but I underestimated the impact it would have on me personally and professionally. We have so much to learn in this world from others. Speaking on behalf of all the therapists on this trip, we truly appreciate the opportunity to learn from these children, from the Adaptive Sports Center, and from our patients and colleagues each and every day.
Maureen Suhr is a doctor of physical therapy and board certified pediatric specialist, and is the assistant section manager at CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion, Hospital for Special Surgery. She has volunteered with the Foundation for Orthopedics and Complex Spine and traveled to Ghana in November 2008 to assist in the rehabilitation of children and adults following joint replacement and spine surgery.